Take the Good with the Bad
Arrowverse 2021 Season: Week 5
This week we finally have two shows to review, and it's interesting because it's a comparison of a good episode -- Batwoman -- with a bad one -- Black Lightning. I have been open about how much I haven't enjoyed Black Lightning over the years, and this season is already shaping up to be just as bad.
But before we get into that, lets check in with the new Bat and see how she's doing.
Batwoman, Season 4, Episode 4: Fair Skin, Blue Eye
In the past Batwoman struggled to give people what they wanted -- a Batman show -- without the license or budget to pull off a proper "Bat" show. Season one of the series wanted to be the best of both worlds, trying to riff on the Batman mythos while also forging its own, very Arrowverse path. While I liked the show, plenty of people hated it, and I can understand where they're coming from. I enjoyed Alice, Kate Kane's sister and primary antagonist, but I can see how people would think she's a budget-rate JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled.. She's actually from the comics, but most TV watchers wouldn't know that.
While I have wondered why this series had to make a new character instead of just recasting Kate Kane (which still seems like the easier option), the show has used the new lead heroine as an opportunity to reinvent. The introduction of Ryan Wilder allowed the show to shake up the relationships on the show and try telling different stories. Yes, Alice is still here, and she holds down the "Bat-Family" side of things for story and mythos. But when it comes to Ryan, she's going off in her own direction, using Batwoman to actually clean up the streets of Gotham and make a personal connection with the people that really need her help.
Take today's case: a young kid gets Batwoman's attention and lets her know that his brother went missing and no one cares. This hits Ryan right where it hurts because that's basically what happened to her; she was a foster kid that was snatched by a woman, who she called the "Candy Lady", and the woman made her feel unloved and unwanted until she was able to convince Ryan that no one would care about her, and she then gave Ryan over to a "family" (read: gang), she she then became a criminal. Realizing that this snatched kid lived in the neighborhood she lived in, Ryan thinks the Candy Lady might still be at large.
What this does it put a personal connection on a case, and it gives Ryan someone new to fight outside of the usual Batman villains (or poor copies of). This makes for a really compelling case and shows off the difference between Ryan and Kate. Kate is a trust-fund kid, basically, and though she had some hardships, one thing she's never had to worry about was money. Ryan, meanwhile, is basically homeless and has spent years on the streets. She understands the criminal element in a way Kate (and maybe even Bruce) never could, and she talks about the hardships of the working class (and the poor) from a place of actual knowledge. It colors everything about the show without it sounding preachy, and I like that a lot.
It also helps that Ryan is black. She can talk about race issues, and class issues, and it comes across from a place of honesty. And since she's actually solving cases, and bonding with people, and making the show watchable -- actress Javicia Leslie quickly settled into her role over the last four episodes and has become a delight to watch -- that, for me, Batwoman is back to being one of (or, right now, the only) Arrowverse show to watch. Well done.
Black Lightning, Season 4, Episode 2: The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter Two: Unacceptable Losses
And now we get to contract that with Black Lightning. All the things I just praised "Fair Skin, Blue Eyes", we get to see the opposite here in "The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter Two: Unacceptable Losses". A lot of that has to do with the fact that, for essentially two and a half years (give or take when the exact moment happened), Black Lightning has been spinning its wheels. I pointed out last week that we're at a point where Black Lightning doesn't want to put on his suit, Tobias Whale is back in town and taking over Freeland, and the city needs its hero more than ever, which is exactly where the show as at the start of the whole series. What, exactly has changed?
Well, not much, really. All the same players are more or less in the same positions they were, and Jefferson's relationships are basically right where they were as well. He's not getting along with his (ex?)wife, his daughters really aren't talking to him, and he's filled with rage over what's going on in his city without any way (he feels) that he can stop it. Oh, and all of this is going on why the cops in the city are set to take out any vigilante, just like they were at the start of the series. Nothing had changed her at all and its so aggravating.
Meanwhile, the show still isn't telling a real story. Nothing actually happens in this episode. We don't have a real case for our heroes to solve, we don't have a villain for them to fight, and we aren't in any way, learning anything about our characters. The one plot line that would seem to be a proper story for the episode -- the two gangs in town get into a shootout, kill a kid in the process, and the heroes have to deal with the fall out -- essentially ends without a proper resolution. Instead of the heroes putting in the work, chasing down suspects, finding the murderer, bringing them to justice, the show short circuits all of it. Thunder drags the two gang leaders out of their homes (somehow, and even the show is like, "I don't know how you did this") and tells them to knock it off. Meanwhile, Jefferson has a kid hack some cameras and finds the bad guy, telling him to turn himself it. That's it.
So when you look at the two shows, we have Batwoman setting up cases, giving them a personal spin so we can relate to the heroine as she solves a problem, and develops all the characters in the process. Then, we have Black Lightning that does none of that and, in the process, fails to progress any of its stories at all. I think I see why one of these shows is ending this year and the other one (the one with the "Bat" in its name) is getting renewed even thought its ratings aren't amazing. I whole-heartedly agree with this decision.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse
- Next week, along with regular episodes, we have the debut of Superman and Lois in a double-length episode. We'll have full coverage of that, along with at least one other episode, in next week's article.